You’re the only one who knows

I am not perfect.

Don’t laugh. I’m being serious here.

Being sick for nearly a week during the holidays has made this abundantly clear to me in a number of ways. To list my imperfections, however, seems self-indulgent. They are the usual suspects. And then some (God forgive me).

But I’ve got Big Love, a wicked quick mind, uninhibited laughter, and Crazy-A$$ed Kitchen Dance Moves that I’m sure my neighbors will cash in on one of these days.  That stuff, I’ve got in spades: Perfectly uninhibited imperfection.

So as we end this year and anticipate the next one, here’s my proposition: Let’s Do This.

No fear.

Cause Time is not, nor ever will be, our friend.

Soon it’s gonna rain

Renowned American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, noted that a person’s final level of psychological development is achieved when all basic and mental needs are fulfilled and the “actualization” of a person’s full personal potential takes place. Examples of self-actualization include the ability to express one’s creativity, pursue spiritual enlightenment and knowledge, and contribute meaningfully to society. In order to achieve this self-actualization, however, one’s basic needs – food, security, shelter, belongingness – must be first met. When we live lives that are different from our true nature and capabilities, we are less likely to be satisfied as compared to those whose goals and lives are in harmony.

I have always been partial to the idea of striving for self-actualization as opposed to seeking some abstract notion of happiness. Happiness, as far as I am concerned, is fleeting. It is unsustainable in an ever-changing world with constant demands. In this way, my objective in relationships has never been to be with someone who has made me happy per se. Rather, the litmus test includes: Is there mutual passion and desire to understand? Can we see the beauty and potential in each other? Do we seek to own the other or can we love so fiercely that we can set each other free to choose rather than bow down to obligatory actions?

This is a complex analysis, no doubt, fraught with potential pit falls. For example, it leaves me vulnerable to affective forecasting error: the belief that future positive and negative effects will have a bigger impact on my future happiness than they actually will. Essentially, there is no way to guarantee that my future self will be happy with my present self’s decision making. But I take solace in Maslow’s belief that ultimately people are essentially motivated to realize their full potential. It’s what drives them to make the day-to-day decisions, and dream about future goals. And to this end, if I can be in a partnership with someone who also seeks to realize themselves completely, who allows me to do the same, I think that is the beginning of the greatest love story ever.

But what does it mean to live a life seeking self-actualization? Researchers say it includes the following: being able to judge situations correctly and honestly; accepting mine and other’s shortcomings (with humor and tolerance); relying on my own experiences to form opinions and not being swayed by questionable cultural values; embracing a spontaneous way of living despite what others may want; finding tasks that take me beyond myself to contribute to a greater good; striving for autonomy in thought, deed, and word; appreciating the world around me; finding comfort in solitude while being socially compassionate; nurturing close relationships; and lastly, forging deep, loving bonds.

This last one — the development of loving bonds — for me requires kindness and intelligence, both on my part and in my beloved. When those two elements are absent, suspicion, hostility, and anger invariably rear their ugly head despite our best of intentions. I really believe that kindness goes a long way in staving off broken dishes, slammed doors, cold shoulders, and lonely nights.

Ultimately, I may not always have made the best choices for my future happiness, but prescience about our future selves is a complicated, if not impossible matter for most people. However, I am hopeful if I start from a place of kindness and intelligence, I can, to paraphrase Tom and Schmidt:

Find four limbs of a tree,

build four walls and a floor,

bind it over with leaves,

and run inside with you to stay.

Then we can let it rain,

we’ll not feel it

nor complain

if it never stops at all.

We’ll live

and love

within our own four walls…

I know that the question of “Does this person make me happy?” is a much simpler analysis. And perhaps if I were a simpler person, this would satisfy me. But it doesn’t. And honestly, I’d rather be alone in a corner with a puppy and a goldfish then deny my chocolaty, complex, actualized-seeking spirit.

Youth, technology & civic education

Civic engagement is a normative concept. This is particularly salient when we consider what are valid and viable civic actions in a digital age. User-generated content sites expand the opportunities for young people to connect, engage and create. Rooted in social relations, young people’s civic identities, political views, and values are driven by the digital media. Youth and digital media disrupt the traditional power relations between adult authority and youth voice. Recognizing this disruption is an important one. In addressing how to promote democracy and a culture of democratic practice, we must first recognize that our current political system no longer has a stranglehold on how we engage in meaningful dialogue about ideas and policies. Indeed, youth who are tethered to online communities also engage in the discussion of important ideas, but a mere cacophony of opinions does not in and of itself contribute to the progressive development of a democratic society.

While youth have access to digital media tools to build social and personal identities, they lack the skills to communicate their common concerns in effective ways to larger audiences. An informed opinion — clearly expressed, and rooted in history and philosophy — is key to meaningful civic participation. But how do our youth learn to become democratic citizens in a society where civic education is disappearing from our public learning institutions? The withering away of civic education in our public education system should be a trend reversed and revised. Part of this revision must include a consideration of how technology can and should contribute to a more fully realized democratic society worthy of the root meaning of “civic”.

“Civic” comes from civis, or “citizen,” and the corona civica denoted a garland of oak leaves and acorns given to ancient Romans who had saved a fellow citizen’s life. With this in mind, then, to be civically engaged and promote a civic education means to engage in life promoting acts rooted in ethics and morality. And perhaps this is one of the sticking points as to why addressing a civic education in the public school system has become so problematic: how does one maintain a separation of church and state when on the tightrope of discussing ethics and morality? I think the answer comes in embracing the power of inquiry as a means of instruction as opposed to didactic instruction. We need to educate our youth to ask important questions and discover meaningful answers for themselves – not spoon-feed them with standardized, limited answers.

I believe the new millennium will come into politics but in a manner different than their parents and grandparents. Enabled to be both producers and consumers of information with unprecedented speed, online networks can be galvanized at critical moments and not merely employed at yearly election of representatives who may or may not be responsive to radical decision-making when necessity dictates. But in the absence of a formal digital civic education agenda that can support the development of effective and meaningful civic participation, it seems that educators should integrate across the curriculum principles of a civic education framed within the trends and potential of our current technological landscape. Much in the same way that socio-emotional learning is increasingly being incorporated in traditional learning domains, civic education should similarly be incorporated to support the development of the well-informed, online, civically engaged problem solvers of tomorrow.  And doesn’t the world need better problem solvers? I know I do.